Belonging to a large plant family known as Zingiberaceae, ginger is grown for its culinary, medicinal and ornamental uses. From the flowering pink ginger to the exotic herb galangal (Thai ginger), ginger plants feature broad strap-like leaves and flowers of many hues that emerge from a stalk at the plant’s center.
Torch ginger, shell ginger and a large assortment of gingers that have white, pink, red, purple and multicolored blossoms are included in the many varieties of ornamental gingers gardeners cherish for their appearance and fragrance. The ornamental varieties of ginger require warm, humid climates or greenhouse conditions, full sun to partial shade and rich, well-drained soil. Most ornamental gingers will not tolerate temperatures lower than about 65 degrees F, according to Bachman’s Floral Gift and Garden.
Curcuma longa is the botanical name of turmeric, a type of ginger. It is widely used in India as one of the spices that make up curry--it’s what gives curry and ballpark mustard their bright yellow-to-orange colors. It is rich in manganese, iron and vitamin B6. Turmeric is also used for treating numerous health ailments in the Indian Ayurvedic system of medicine and in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s a potent dye as well, and was used for dying traditional tapa cloth in Hawaii.
Called “khaa” in its native Thailand and Alpinia galangal in botanical circles, this ginger has a smoky flavor that is different from other gingers. The roots are much larger than standard culinary ginger and they are dried and processed into powder, which makes it possible for cooks everywhere to use this exotic spice. The website ThaiFood cautions that powdered galangal ginger is not as potent or as flavorful as the fresh root. Fresh roots are becoming available at specialty stores in the United States, according to the site. Several growers in Hawaii have begun supplying the increased demand for this ginger to U.S. markets. Galangal has been used for its reputed medicinal properties for over 700 years, according to online resource Herbs Are Special, and was believed to be an aphrodisiac.
Although it is prized for its yellow flowers, long reddish-orange stamens and pleasing fragrance, when the kahili ginger can grow out of control and become an invasive species, as it has done in parts of Hawaii. Known botanically as Hedychium gardnerianum, kahili ginger grows to 5 feet tall and blooms from mid summer through fall in areas with full to filtered sunlight and generally wet conditions.